Last year taught us that social media cannot be ignored when it comes to gauging public opinion. Two high-profile events that revealed this were Brexit and the US Presidential election, both of which resulted in outcomes not predicted by polls or surveys but – for better or worse - by social media.
Political electioneering and marketing are analogous. Both are about having a marketable brand (candidate vs a product), public awareness of that brand and how that brand is perceived when measured against its competitors in the marketplace.
But how has social media become such an indispensable tool in a relatively short time (twitter has only been in existence since 2006)? And why there is a growing awareness of the importance of social media analysis in the marketing community?
Assessing public opinion, using traditional methods, is time-consuming. You have to figure out the questions you want to ask, who you want to ask and then decide on the best method of conducting this type of survey (face-to-face, via email, online, phone, etc). Then you need to work out what it all means.
On the other hand, if you have access to the right tools – easy to use but capable of providing comprehensive, actionable data – you can mine social media comment in just a few clicks. Then, instead of spending days (possibly weeks) trying to analyse unstructured data, social media data can be analysed in minutes.
Traditional polls and marketing surveys are biased – they follow a fixed line of enquiry, and are often designed to generate particular answers. To give you a crude example: I could ask a question like
“Would you describe our product as Good, Very Good or Excellent?”
If you respond to this line of questioning (and most of us will respond to an authoritative voice, without argument, as the Milgram experiment proved), then the answer will always be positive because there are no other options. Such universally good responses may look well in a marketing report, but they will not explain why a brand’s sales are nose-diving!
Alternatively, social media users are - for the most part - not led by questions, but make spontaneous, unprovoked comments and statements. This affords a more honest, open opinion of a brand, which is worthy of detailed analysis.
Someone’s preferred choice of social media will be based on what they want and how they think (librarians think differently to film directors!).